Gay marriage: Christians are experiencing our own kind of exile
I guess Christians throughout the UK will be reacting to the progress of the same-sex marriage bill with a mixture of emotions. For some there will be a sense of despair, even anger that the Prime Minister could attempt to reshape an ancient institution in such a calculating and willful manner - feelings that will not have been helped by the unusual outbreak of applause following the announcement of the vote.
Others no doubt will be dismayed or even puzzled that God could have allowed this given the concerted efforts to defend the traditional understanding of marriage, not to mention the many fervent prayers that have been offered both in private and in the public square.
And as if "adding salt to the wounds" the Church of Scotland has taken a decision that will inevitably ensure the progress of openly homosexual ministry among its people. So how should we react?
It would help if we spent a little time asking why the Lord has allowed us to get to this point. The vote, which attracted the support of an overwhelming number of MPs, clearly reflects the opinion of the majority of people in the country. And all the evidence seems to suggest that those of us who are opposed to same sex marriage are in a growing minority.
This inescapable fact has several implications. To begin with it is a reminder that this is but the latest piece of evidence that shows that Callum Brown hit the nail on the head when he talked of the death of Christian Britain. The 1960s witnessed the beginning of a profound change in our cultural values all of which bear witness to the sad truth that this is no longer "a Christian country". In some ways our constant attempts to defend the Christian position are akin to Custer's last stand. We cannot expect to see Christian values shaping our laws if the majority of the population has rejected them.
Like many others I have reached the conclusion that we are experiencing our own kind of exile and that God has allowed us to reach this point in order to hear His word again.
It's a word that says "Get your own house in order". In other words we need a united voice wherever possible. This does not mean we should stop listening to those who disagree with us; rather the reverse it true. But we need to fight our corner for Biblical standards in the way Jesus expects us to: courteously, graciously but refusing to compromise with Biblical truth.
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But it's also a time to be reminded that if we want to see the people of our land accepting Christian values we need to win their hearts and minds. Paul makes that very clear in the opening section of his letter to the Romans. He begins with a concise summary of the gospel. The gospel is first and foremost a public truth; it is a declaration that Jesus of Nazareth is Israel's Messiah and therefore lord of all.
Paul is right the "gospel" has massive implications. It means, for example, that every one of us must come to terms with the claim He has on our lives. We must choose to accept, or to reject his authority. And those of us who acknowledge His lordship must live in ways that show that our confession is more than mere lip service.
But Paul makes it clear that obedience must flow from faith and not any sense of coercion. Christians have argued for freedom of conscience from the earliest days of the church. Sadly we often want something for ourselves that we wish to deny others. If we want people to obey Jesus we need to set about winning the hearts and minds of the next generation.
But that does not mean we should be silent. If Jesus is Lord then those who rule us need to be told that they will have to give an account of their stewardship and that if they want to gain His approval they ought to allow His values to shape the laws that we adopt.
And so our commitment to Jesus must include a willingness to challenge each cultural value and every social institution that demeans and distorts His world. Consequently it must include a determination to put an end to poverty and injustice, tyranny and cruelty. I believe it will also include a determination to defend the traditional Christian view of sexuality. As Jesus said, His Kingdom and His righteousness should be at the top of His followers' agenda.
Given the size of the task we can easily feel inadequate of course, which is why we might need another Pentecost for when they experienced the intoxicating power of God's Spirit a small group of dispirited men and women gained such a sense of confidence and power that they turned the world upside down. And He could do the same through us today. We may think we are very unlikely "movers and shakers" too but history shows that God has a habit of doing the amazing things through the most unlikely people.